January 26, 2010

Lessons learned from Lake Pleasant

As I mentioned in my last blog when my daughter wanted to spend a fishing/camping weekend with my, I was very honored that she considered spending time with me as a reward. I was also very nervous. I had gone camping alone in the past, but I going camping on your own is totally different from going camping with a daughter. There are expectations that your child is going to have. In addition, my daughter wanted to catch fish and eat it for dinner. I have NEVER done any fish processing. She also wanted to roast marshmallows, which meant starting a fire. I don't think I have ever started a fire by myself. I was a girl scout, but only for a few years and we didn't learn that kind of stuff. We learned macrame, sewing and baking and skills "more suited" to girls. I always wanted to be a boy scout because they seemed to do cooler things, like learn how to survive in the wilderness with nothing but a swiss army knife, a compass, flint and a water canteen. Besides those two practical issues, I also wondered how well we would get along and whether we would run out of things to say. My daughter and I frequently butt heads because we both have definite ideas about how things should be done and we don't always agree on the method. We had been arguing a lot lately as she seems to be honing her skills for the teenage years. I really wanted to have a great weekend, but I was concerned that it would be filled with bickering which would ruin the weekend.

With all this in mind, I decided to honor her request to go camping, though I warned her that it would have to be delayed until after the holidays. She seemed okay with waiting and was fairly patient. I decided so quickly on the date and the place to camp, that she was delightfully surprised when I told her we were going. Immediately, she pulled out some paper and we started menu planning and planning our activities. We had to work out a few disagreements, but we each submitted to each other in certain areas--I agreed to have sausage with oatmeal even though it wasn't appealing and she agreed not to cook anything for breakfast on Sunday. She was pretty definite on fishing all morning and then hiking in the afternoon. I decided to bring along a book to read while she was fishing. She was going to do it all because I don't care for fishing, apart from the appeal to my survival skills and because she can fish for free, whereas I would need to buy a license.

The big day arrived and we left to set up camp with her brothers and sister and dog in tow. I felt really foolish when we got there and I realized that I had forgotten the hatchet, which is frequently used to pound tent stakes. However, the foolishness gave way to a feeling of primal power when I started using the rocks as hammers. My first choice was a little hard on the hands, so that I had to try a couple of others before I found one with the right weight and shape. It still managed to wear away a layer of skin before I managed to stake the tent down. There is a certain, healthy pride that comes from doing something by yourself, especially when you have to overcome hurdles to accomplish it. It was also so windy as we were setting it up, I had to use rocks to keep the tarp and tent on the ground as I was staking it. When the tent was raised, I also had the kids get intothe tent to make sure it would stay down while I put the rain flap over it. Just to make sure it would stay, I put rocks over the tent pegs to hold them down and put our clothes in the tent, though I knew they weren't

Just as I finished that job, I looked around for our dog, Jacques. Jessi had tied him to a post when I asked her to get inside the tent, but she didn't tie it very well because he was nowhere to be seen. I felt scared and sick all at once and realized felt that it was all my fault if he had run away and been run over by a car. We bought him from a shelter that had a similar policy to the one Ellen Degeneres used when she had her crying episode on TV. Over the course of two minutes of not finding him, I pictured him dead, wandering around limping on all the burrs that he picked up and being permanently blacklisted from adopting dogs. Fortunately, Jacques is a sensible dog and was sitting patiently by the van waiting for us to finish so that he could get back in the comfortable, not burry van. He was happily surprised when we all descended on him with hugs and rubs. We ate lunch, spent 30 minutes in the Visitor Center viewing every single item they offered and then went home. LZ, wise girl that she was, picked up as much free information about fishing that she could, since she knew I knew virtually nothing.

It was close to nightfall when LZ and I returned, which meant that we had to set up the camp light and camp stove by flashlight. It wasn't going well. Fortunately, the campground has excellent cell phone coverage, so I called my husband to get some pointers about hooking up the propane jar to the stove. It was not starting out well. However, eating food had remarkable properties in improving my outlook. Until that is, I realized that I forgot the dish soap. Recriminations started playing in my head until I remembered Kathy's great phrase: "Oh well". I used hand soap soaked in the water to clean the dishes, trying not to think about soap scum. It wasn't great, but it meant NOT eating off of dirty dishes the next morning. Then, we just relaxed and talked about all sorts of things and looked up at the stars. I know Orion's Belt and pointed it out to her. That was enough to impress her. Woo Hoo! Then we looked at all sorts of stars with some small binoculars and found one cluster that looked like a question mark. We talked a lot about great camping memories, like walking around Smoky Mountains National park together and seeing a baby bear foraging, and walking across the Mississippi River at it's source, and the time we camped for two weeks traveling around the southern side of Lake Superior, dipping into Lake Huron at the end. And we goofed off, which is the greatest thing to do with a child. On the way from the bathroom as we got ready for bed, I spotted a bobcat, which was cool and a little scary at the same time. We put the food in the car, snuggled into our sleeping bags and I tried not to think about the bobcat. It was very windy, so I spent a lot of the night wondering how well I really staked the tent, though I was pretty sure that it would not carry us off in the night. The biggest problem is that I thought I kept hearing the bobcat prowling around our campsite. I even "jumped" out of the tent at one point to suprise the animal and and by "jump" I meant that it took me two minutes to open the door, slip on my shoes and unzip the flap so I could "surprise" any animal that was checking the place out. However, there was no animal. At some point in the night, I finally figured out that the "crunching noise" was the rain flap hitting the ground from the wind. It is interesting, however, how your mind really plays tricks on you when you are sheltered only by a thin layer of fabric.

The next day presented three challenges, of which I "passed" two of them: fixing LZ's fishing pole, kayaking with her and starting a fire. Fortunately, LZ never caught a fish at all, so I wasn't presented with a fourth challenge of trying to prepare a fish to eat. All of these were challenges because I had never done any of them before on my own. I only failed at one of them, which was trying to fix her pole. Since she couldn't fish, she wanted to go on a boat. If we had been able to fish, we might have tried the fishing boat. The flyer for the boat rental only mentioned "kayaks" and I pictured the two of us in one of the those narrow boats where you are literally stuck inside the boat with an opening just big enough to get your derriere into, going out on the lake, capsizing, not being able to get it rightside up, and drowning both me and my daughter. Then I would be standing in front of the Pearly Gates with Peter saying to me, "What WERE you thinking?" Fortunately, they only rent sea kayaks which are much wider. They are actually more like plastic rafts with a seat attached to the top. The lack of sides was not reassuring, but I figured that we would follow the guy's advice to the letter when he said "Don't stand up." It turned out to be really wonderful. There are so many things you can only see in the middle of the lake. For instance, we could tell that the lake was down several feet because we saw a water line--a layer of rock near the lake which was a pale, washed out taupe suddenly turning cinnamon brown with lots of green brush and cactus covering it as you looked higher. I hadn't brought the camera with us because I didn't want to chance it falling overboard due to the lack of sides. We had no accidents and had a lot of fun drifting, talking, rowing fast and steering. It was LZ first time paddling and she did a great job.

In a way, I "passed" the challenge of fixing the fishing pole, by taking her to the Visitor's Center when a fishing expert was present. He fixed the fishing pole and gave her a lot of great advice, most of which I can't remember at this point in time. I guess that I am not meant to fish.

My last challenge was to start a fire. I think every other time that I had been camping, I was either with someone who knew how to start a fire, like my husband, or I brought along one of those self starting, no-fail logs. However, maybe because LZ saw how my husband made a fire, I thought I had to do it like he did it. So we bought logs at the marina store and headed to the campsite around 4 in the afternoon so that I could start the fire, now knowing how successfull I would be. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that if I failed, there was a burger joint at the Marina. However, my daughter was looking forward to roasting marshmallows, which the burger joint couldn't provide. Therefore I was determined to start one. Starting a fire meant creating kindling from the logs, which was the main reason that I brought the hatchet. I silently sent up a prayer to God that I would finish this exercise with the same number of fingers, hands and feet while I set up the first log. I banished fleeting mental picture of me bringing down the hatchet on the wood to have it bounce off, like some scene in a light beer commercial. I was overjoyed when the hatchet did stick a little bit on my first swing. It took me about 30 minutes to create kindling, but I managed to do it without any major injury. I scraped some skin off and pulled out a few splinters out of my hand in the process, but I was successful. If nothing else went right in the firemaking process, I was content. And I made a mental note to bring leather gloves next time. I then gathered the kindling, placed it on the paper that LZ had wadded up and used a butane lighter to start the fire. I know, at this point, you are thinking "Butane lighter! What a wimp!" To my delighted surprise, it started immediately and the big log I had put on top of it all also caught fire! Bwahahahahahah! Fire!!!!!! I have never felt so accomplished before. Now my daughter's dreams of sitting around the fire, toasting hot dogs and marshmallows would be realized. I was totally pumped. As many of my Facebook friends can attest, I took many pictures with my cell phone and posted them on Facebook. I think God was cheering me on also because the sunset that night resembled a fire with clouds of smoke billowing from it. Seriously! The rest of the night was great, except for the game of war, which I was winning a lot. I think God is trying to teach LZ how to be a good loser and me to be a gracious winner. We were pretty tired, so we fell asleep pretty early. Nothing woke me up that night except the cold. I was actually cold in the sleeping bag while wearing socks, long pants, a T-shirt covered by a long sleeved shirt! I grabbed and extra blanket we had brought along "just in case" and fell back to sleep.

During the whole time, none of the fears I had going into the trip came to pass. Even if some of them had, I am sure that it would have only been a momentary blip in our overall happy times, creating a great story of "suffering" which we could relive over a campfire at another time. We had a great time talking and it felt so good to be able to goof off with her for a majority of the time. When we homeschool, I try to do goofy things, but sometimes, it is hard. And I have to be the one that keeps them on task. I don't always like being the 'taskmaster'. I also realized that my kids, strangely enough, do like hanging out with me, even though they are with me all day, every day. And I have determined that I will have "hang time" with each child individually as much as possible. So I need to get off my derriere right now to hang out.

1 comment:

Matt @ The Church of No People said...

Hey, thanks for commenting on my blog yesterday so thoughtfully! It made my day to see such conversation going on. It is tricky to love people in church, isn't it?

Your blog banner reminds me that it is not even close to biking weather! Ugh. :)